Christmas Through the Eyes of a Bell Ringer
My Rotary Club has a long-standing tradition of helping the Salvation Army with its Kettle Campaign as a service project. As a new member, I was asked to coordinate this year's bell ringing at one of the local merchants for a couple of days prior to Christmas. The previous coordinator recommended an outdoor recreation store because of its inside placement of the kettle. I was assured it would be the warmest location available. Besides coordinating, this would be the first time I had ever been a bell ringer.
After a couple of e-mails and phone calls along with a website sign-up, we were set. The volunteer coordinators at our Salvation Army office were excellent and the process for individuals or service organizations to sign up is very streamlined. Our service organization was covering 12 shifts on a Friday and Saturday in mid-December.
The shift I signed-up for came on a single-digit, snow-covered Wisconsin day. I remembered the warm placement of the kettle, but dressed in layers, like Mom always told me, just in case. On the way to the store, I thought about how annoying I always found the bell ringing and secretly questioned why they needed ringers and why I was now doing it.
When I arrived and relieved my fellow Rotarian of their duties, I immediately noticed that the temperature change from outside to the inside of the entryway where the kettle was placed was negligible. In other words, it was pretty cold. There would be no shedding of clothes on this day. As I grabbed hold of the bell, the ringing began, although I believe it was occurring naturally from my shivering. I thought of all of the bell ringers I had seen standing outside over the years and immediately had a new respect for them.
It took about 60 seconds for my perceptions of the bell ringing to change. The first thing you realize is that the bell and person make you take notice of the kettle. The bell ringer is also a face that reminds you of the human element of giving and can say Thank You for your generosity and Merry Christmas to remind you of the true reason for the season. I immediately felt bad for my previous perceptions and appreciated the insight I had already gained.
The next thing you realize is the generosity of people. This previous year had marked the worst recession most Americans had experienced in their lifetime. The number of people in need of the Salvation Army's services were at record levels and nearly everyone else was feeling the pinch somewhere in their lives. Yet on this frigid Wisconsin day, the warmth of people caring for people was overwhelming. The people who you would have guessed were least able to give would stop, take off their gloves, and dig deep into their pockets to make a contribution. I wish I could have recorded all of the comments I heard as people stopped to donate money in the kettle just during my couple hour shift. Here are a few I remembered:
- This is the third one (kettle) I've been past today. (I am sure this person also donated at the previous two.)
- I appreciate you guys (volunteers) taking the time to do this for others. (This older person told me how they had rung bells for years.)
- I sent you a check last week. (I realized at this moment I has assumed the role of the face of the Salvation Army this person sent the check to.)
- I just can't walk past these things (kettles). (I am sure this person meant they just can't walk past someone else in need.)
Money better spent here. (The person was leaving the store empty-handed.)
What better way to sum up the Salvation Army Kettle Campaign and put the true meaning of Christmas in perspective.
I want to thank everyone who made a contribution to the Salvation Army or the charity of their choice this Christmas season and give thanks to God for the opportunity to witness humanity at its best. I would encourage anyone with doubts to be a bell ringer for a couple hours. I believe it will change your perspective on a lot of things.